Some of the toughest cowboys, weightlifters, basketball stars and their families grew misty-eyed Wednesday night when the Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame inducted its seventh class.
Seventeen individuals — most of whom were among the estimated 200 in attendance at Montana State Billings' Petro Theatre — were given plaques for their feats in eight sports. Also inducted were the 1971 boys state basketball champions from Busby and 1988-89-90 boys basketball titlists from Lodge Grass.
"I've got to gather myself here a little bit," said inductee Dana Goes Ahead, a Crow basketball, track, and cross country standout. "It's overwhelming. I'm honored."
Said Blackfeet champion distance runner JR Bremner of Heart Butte: "I'm kind of choking up. I wish my dad was here to see this."
Those sentiments were precisely what former Blackfeet basketball legend Don Wetzel Sr. envisioned when he first conceived of a Montana Indian Athletic Hall of Fame a decade ago. The Cut Bank native, who played four years at the University of Montana in the late 1960s after a dominant high school career, said too many memories were getting lost to the dustbin of history.
The Hall of Fame, he was certain, would elicit stories and evoke pride across the state's seven reservations.
"I've had mothers calling me crying," Wetzel said. "You watch what happens in our libraries when this stuff gets out."
Though all 17 are iconic in Indian athletic lore, perhaps the most notable name on the list of inductees was Kayla Lambert, the former Brockton standout who still holds the state record for career points by a girl or boy.
Lambert's 3,453 points over four years are 803 higher than runnerup Katie Edwards of Denton and Lewistown. She averaged a record 34.5 points per game for her career and 42.2 in 1998-99.
"I was shocked when I read some of her stuff," Wetzel said in introducing her. "This is an unbelievable scorer."
True to her personality, a smiling Lambert was reluctant to speak and did so only after Wetzel and then his son, Donnie Jr., pointed to the podium with playful insistence.
"First of all, I'm honored," she said. "I appreciate it. Thank you."
Then she backed away while several family members joined her on stage for photographs.
"She kind of talks like she scores -- quick," Wetzel Sr. said, eliciting a laugh.
Moments later, Lambert's father and coach, Bernard, took over briefly and extolled Kayla's dedication and unselfishness.
"She's not much for words," he said. "So I figure I better get up here."
Gary Fisher, who also coached Lambert, also remembered her for what she did off the court as well as on it.
"She let her playing do the talking; she could do it all," he said, adding: "She'd sign autographs from the time she walked into the gym until the time she left. That's how humble she was."
Perhaps the most touching moment of the evening came during the honoring of someone who wasn't there: John Kindness, the former Hays-Lodgepole basketball star who died young.
About 20 of his family members walked on stage for a photograph, some hugging and wiping their eyes. A daughter spoke of the legacy her dad left across the basketball landscape, pointing out that at tournaments she never fails to meet someone who knew him.
"Thank God I got to make it here tonight," she said.